Natura 2000 is an ecological network, including zones designated according to the Birds Directive and the Habitat Directive. It must ensure the continuity of species and habitat types in Europe as a guarantee of biodiversity. Each state of the European Union proposes, for each of the biogeographic and marine regions it encompasses, a list of spaces complying with criteria set in the annex III to Habitat Directive. After a long administrative procedure, these are declared Special Areas of Conservation. States also propose Special Protection Areas for birds.
Summarizing, states draw the line and Europe integrates the area in its network. The EU does not impose a zone, but once the area is approved as part of Natura2000, it is protected by European law. Therefore, when problems arise, the last word comes to the Court of Justice of the European Union, in Luxembourg.
The zone must be drawn according to scientific criteria, but the line can also be subject to political opportunity criteria; few of the large European cities have Natura2000 zones in their metro areas, and land use changes for infrastructure or urban growth can challenge that protection. The State must follow a complex path to change these decisions, and in case of trouble it is in a rather different position when facing the Luxembourg Court if compared to a national Court.
There is an interesting 2006 booklet on how the Luxembourg Court decided on Natura2000 related cases. A selection of cases of interest:
– C-335/90. Santoña marshes. Spain. Wastewater, aquaculture, roads, embankments.
– C-44/95. Lappel Bank. UK. Exclusion of an area from a Special Conservation Area for birds due to economic considerations.
– C-374/98. Basses Corbieres. France. Classification as SPA, quarries, compensatory measures
A state can receive a similar answer from its national supreme court, but the fact that Luxembourg speaks raises more buzz in the press.